Archive for December, 2008

Ganymede Runs, But Can’t Hide

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Here’s one of the latest of thousands of photos from the Hubble Space Telescope.

That’s the moon Ganymede in its orbit going behind Jupiter.  Ganymede is the largest of the moons orbiting not only Jupiter, but the largest moon in the solar system.  It is slightly larger than Mercury with a diameter of 3,270 miles, (Mercury is 3,032 miles).  That means if it were in orbit around the sun, it would be classified as a planet.  It also gives the scale of the size of Jupiter.  Ganymede is approximately 40% the size of Earth.  If you look closely at the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, which is a gigantic storm that’s been raging for centuries, Earth would easily fit inside with plenty of room to spare.

bob

Phil Plait – A Bad Astronomer

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

A few of you have asked where I get my information on Science and Astronomy.  I know Astronomy is a Science, I list it separately because I spend 2/3 of my reading time on Astronomy alone.  There are many great websites and blogs on the Internet.  Many of them will be linked on www.possum-holler.com still scheduled to go online soon.

One that I like in particular is Space Daily.  They send out daily e-mails on on the latest space science news, www.spacedaily.com.  Check it out.

The website and blog I’ve read the longest is Dr. Phil Plait’s, www.badastronomy.com, now a part of Discover.  I was on his e-mail list before blogs were around and read his newsletters.  DON’T be fooled by the name Bad Astronomy, he’s passionate about Science, especially Astronomy and is a well known Skeptic.  The name Bad Astronomy is a play on words.  His first book is called Bad Astronomy, where he debunks all kinds of anti-science gibberish, especially the moon landings.  It’s amazing to me that so many people believe we never went to the moon.  They are easily fooled by anti-science nonsense and Phil does an excellent job explaining why they are wrong and how we, as a nation, achieved this remarkable feat.  I strongly recommend his book to anyone.  I will occasionally steal ideas from his blog like the post showing the Science/Astrology picture on the post Anti-Science HaHa.

His second book I purchased last month, an autographed copy from The James Randi Education Foundation, www.randi.org,  - Death From The Skies.  This book details ways the world could end, from Gamma Rays to Asteroids explained in laymen terms.  I haven’t read it yet, but it has received good reviews and with his sense of humor should be excellent reading.

The reason I thought to let you all know about Phil is his latest post says he will be in Phoenix today.  No, I’ve never met him and don’t know why he’s here.  Mere mortals like me just stand in the shadows and suck out all the fascinating information from scientists.  It just keyed into my brain to let you know about him.

bob

Who’s The Most Famous Pimp You’ve Heard Of?

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Dodge City Marshall?  Tombstone City Marshall?  Bounty Hunter?  Gunslinger?  Hero of the west?

None of the above.

The famous Wyatt Earp and his brothers Virgil, Morgan and James ran gambling tables and pimped at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone.  In fact, they were known locally as the Pimp Brothers.

Bit O’ History.  The brothers moved to Tombstone to trade on the miners who were working the silver mine.  Many miners of the day were paid daily in coin, or if hired steady, paid weekly, so they were among the few at that time that had a steady income.  Miners were notoriously ruffian.  Transient by nature, miners generally spent most of their extra money in the saloons getting their 3 square meals a day for lonely men in about 2 hours.  Unlike the Longbranch Saloon on Gunsmoke that came across almost as a family run hotel, most western saloons of the 1800′s generally offered 3 services: drinking, gambling and prostitution.  No girls on a stage doing the Can-Can dance or flirting with the local Marshall.  Especially in classy or respected establishments, prostitutes most often were not allowed downstairs in the saloon because this would have been considered inappropriate.

The Earp brothers, minus the youngest brother Warren, moved to Tombstone and staked the “gambling wall” of the Oriental Saloon on the northeast corner of 5th and Allen streets.  Saloons of this era were generally long and narrow, often 2 story frame buildings laid out remarkably similar throughout the west.  The bar was along 1 wall, the gaming tables along the opposite wall and the rooms called ”cribs” were upstairs.  The cribs were not hotel rooms as often depicted in the movies, but were very small closet size rooms that the “soiled doves” used to ply their trade.  It was the responsibility of the Gamblers to make sure the customers had plenty to drink while gambling and waiting their turn for a tumble.  A number system was often used to keep track of the cribs in use and to make sure no customer spent too much time with one of the girls.

Footnote: The term Gambler has changed somewhat over the last century.  Today a gambler is the person who is gambling, but in the old west era “Gambler” referred to the men who rented, owned or staked the gaming tables.  Dealers were also referred to as a Gambler.  Customers were called just that, customers.

In time, grifting (swindling) and gunplay became rampant.  Tombstone was right on the edge of having no effective law enforcement after the City Marshall was murdered by Curley Bill Brocius, and certainly there was little control over the local “trade”.  The lack of law enforcement is what caused one of the Earp brothers to step forward and become a Tombstone City Marshall: it was Virgil, not Wyatt.  Interestingly enough if Virgil needed to deputize one of the brothers, it was usually Morgan who helped.

So were the Earp brothers considered lowlifes for their lifestyle?  Not really.  The oldest brother James’ wife was an active prostitute while he bartended and pimped for her before they moved to Tombstone, this while they were married.  Wyatt’s common law wife Mattie was a former prostitute.  Gamblers and Pimps were inline with Bartenders as far as respect in the community.  A fair Gambler was also the enforcer of proper behavior in the saloon, not the bartender, so they often times inspired fear as well as respect.  Gamblers were expected to purport themselves as professionals at all times and to dress accordingly.  Gamblers often dressed very similiarally in towns even at competing saloons and could easily be identified because of the style of their attire.  The Earp brothers were no different, they dressed like all respected Gamblers in Tombstone.

Now – this little Bit O’ History begs other interesting questions like:

The Shootout at the OK Corral happened in the OK Corral, right? ………wrong

The main gambling game at saloons was poker, right? ……….wrong

Doc Holiday was an accurate shot and the fastest on the draw, right? ……..wrong

Wyatt was a respected former lawman, right? …….wrong

The Earp brothers lasting impression on Tombstone was from years of living there, right? ……..wrong

A “cowboy” in the late 1800′s was a hero in a white hat or a cattle puncher, right? …….wrong

The answers coming soon to a Holler near you.

bob

Free Nights Stay at the Pilot Knob Hotel

Friday, December 12th, 2008

There is so much sunshine in Arizona that we can plan a picnic on just about any day of the year months in advance.  Go ahead, pick a date sometime in 2009, mark your calendar and check the weather when that day comes around.  Over 330 days a year we have sunshine at least half the day.  An additional 22 days that the sun peeks through for a short time.

But guess what?  It’s December 12th and there’s cloud cover this evening and I can’t see the giant full moon at perigee rising in the east that is discussed in the previous post, Drop Your Drawers For The Biggest Full Moon Of The Year.  Sigh

What’s this have to do with a free nights stay at the Pilot Knob Hotel?  Normally clear whether in Arizona.

Notice the Victorian Dress

Notice the Victorian Dress

In Yuma, AZ, the Pilot Knob Hotel had this offer across the top of the building.  Prettie safe bet that they collected the rent most every night, although Yuma does average some 5 whole days a year that the sun never peeks through the clouds.  The hotel closed and was torn down over 50 years ago, but they didn’t go out of business because of the weather, just changing times.

Drop Your Drawers for the Biggest Full Moon of the Year

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Ever notice that the moon looks bigger when it’s low on the horizon, seen through trees or next to buildings?

This optical illusion is not fully understood by scientists or psychologists.  But there is truth to the fact that the moon appears larger at times because it is slightly closer to the earth.  No orbiting body has a perfectly circular orbit.  Orbiting bodies like asteroids, planets, moons, etc. have elliptical orbits and Astronomers refer to the apogee and perigee of orbiting bodies.  Apogee is when the moon, or other orbiting body, is farther away and Perigee is when the moon is closer to the earth.

This Friday, Dec. 12, the Full Moon is at Perigee in the east.  Moonrise will be a Full Moon about 31,000 miles closer than when the moon is at Apogee.  If my math is correct, that’s about 14% closer.  Since you will see this at sunset, the optical illusion should be spectacular.  A truly giant moon rise in the east.  The moon will also be about 30% brighter, so you will be able to easily see the moon before sunset and watch as it rises, appearing to get smaller throughout the evening.  For your reference hold your thumb out at arms length to gauge the size of the moon.  As the moon rises and appears to get smaller you will notice that the size in relation to your thumb will NOT change.  Cool.

Cheek to Cheek

Cheek to Cheek

So how come you can’t see the Apollo landing sites, even with the Hubble Space Telescope?  The answer coming to a Holler near you.

bob

2009 International Year of Astronomy

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

2009 has been dedicated by the United Nations as the International Year of Astronomy.  There will be worldwide events starting with the dedication in Paris January 15th.  Check out the website at www.astronomy2009.org.

The main thing this means to amateurs like me is that telescopes will be available on the web like never before.  Currently there are several telescopes available to the public through links on the Internet.  People simply log-on, suggest certain views of the night sky and if chosen, the telescope slews to the requested object.  Recently I asked for a 60 second viewing of M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy, just for fun.  The telescope site is in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.  Isn’t the Internet incredible.  Unfortunately I missed the screen capture, but have requested the picture be e-mailed to me.  I’ll post it when it arrives.

bob

Conjunction Junction

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Karen, Mare the Bare and our neighbors Chuck, Deb, Daniel and Henry came over to look at the Moon, Venus and Jupiter during the conjunction.  Through my astro binoculars we could clearly see 3 of the 4 Galilean moons even with a bright street lamp directly across the street.  We also observed the Crescent Moon.  The south pole of moon was brilliantly lit affording an incredible view of the mountain ranges and craters.  The “star” of the night was clearly seeing Boussingault Crater and the smaller crater inside as well as the central mountain peak created from the impact 3 1/2 billion years ago.

Unfortunately you couldn’t see the phase of Venus because of the city lights and haze.  Venus looked like a round fuzzy ball.  The best part of tracking the phases, just like the moon, is this helps explain how Galileo figured out that the earth was not center of the solar system, and therefore not the center of the universe.  The moon has phases because it obviously orbits the earth.  Venus has phases just the same, but it orbits the sun.  Through his telescope, Galileo could record the phases of Venus and realized the the crescents were always created by the sun being on the sunlit side.  Modeling this information on paper with the day and night of earth, he realized that the earth has phases just like any other planet in orbit around the sun if you could view the earth from space.  Although he couldn’t see phases on Mercury, too close to the sun and therefore washed out, he understood the nature of orbital rotation, now called Orbital Mechanics.  Unfortunatley for Galileo, the catholic church was not ready to admit that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe and forced him to recant, and then kept him under house arrest for the rest of his life.

bob

News on Hubble from Hubbell Street

Friday, December 5th, 2008

NASA has announced the Hubble Telescope servicing mission has been rescheduled for May 12.  Yaa.  The grand dame has pushed back the mysteries of the cosmos since 1990.  HST, (Hubble Space Telescope) was supposed to get it’s 3rd and final repair and upgrade last month from the shuttle Endeavor, but a hardware failure on Hubble caused the postponement of the flight.

Bit O’ History – Hubble was not really designed to be repaired in space, but right after it came online the photos were blurry.  The lens manufacturer, Perkin Elmer, overground the reflecting surface making the images in focus in the center point, but blurry extending outward.  After a billion dollars on the manufacture, you can imagine the disappointment.  However, engineers in Tucson built corrective optics to correct the main lens distortion.  Thus the first servicing mission and the universe opened like never before.  Astronomers were astounded at the amount of new information and science.  The cosmos was far more vast with other galaxies discovered by the millions.

The second mission replaced worn hardware, like gyroscopes, cooling devices and greater capability to see beyond visible light.  This was expensive, but relatively easy decision for NASA because the realization that no other instument was producing large amounts of discovery like Hubble.

When hardware started slowly degrading a few years back, one of the cameras hasn’t operated in years, HST was put on the chopping block to make way for a newer, bigger, better telescope – The James Webb Telescope.  However, no other scientific instrument was more famous, produced more science and created more awe in the scientific community than Hubble.  The Webb telescope is also way behind schedule.  NASA then began to consider repairing and updating HST one last time.  THEN Columbia.  The loss of the shuttle Columbia finally killed the Hubble project.  The telescope would be used until it no longer functioned and then dropped into the Pacific Ocean.  Since the new NASA requirements stated that astronauts had to be able to be rescued, shuttle missions are now limited to the space station.  Hubble is in an entirely different orbit than that of the ISS, (International Space Station) and so wasn’t capable of being serviced.

NASA was finally convinced that Hubble needed to be repaired not only by the scientists, but by private citizens interested astronomy, like me, that a 3rd and final upgrade and repair was worth the risk and money.  The retirement of the shuttle fleet was extended 1 additional launch.  You may not have known, but with the shuttle Endeavor on launch pad 39A in November, another shuttle was being readied on pad 39B as the rescue backup in case something happened during Endeavors flight.  Then the unexpected hardware failure on Hubble.  The hardware that failed has a backup on the HST, which is functioning normally allowing time to prepare an addition to the servicing mission of replacing the control board that failed.  So barring any additional setbacks, the Hubble Space Telescope will be visited one last time in May, producing new science with cutting edge upgrades for many years to come.

This may seem like ordinary news to you, but it makes me almost giddy.  Please visit the Hubble website at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/main/index.html.  If you have any questions about the pictures, science or technology, just give me holler.

bob